Adding Red Clover to your Rotation

There is lots of buzz around the countryside regarding cover crops, which is fantastic! Cover crops are a great addition to any crop rotation and the benefits are larger than many growers realize.  For example, by including red clover into your rotation (Corn-Soy-Wheat-Red Clover) you are adding significant yield to your Corn crop.  I know, sounds weird for the wheat guy to be talking about Corn, but the reality is that it is the most grown crop in Ontario.  So if adding wheat increases your bottom line – then great!  Dr. Dave Hooker and the University of Guelph show that over 6 years, the average increase over a corn and soybean rotation was 24.5 bu/acre.  Increases are seen in both a no-till AND plowed scenario.

Red Clover is most often frost seeded into winter red wheat.  This is one of the easiest ways to enter the “cover crop game”.   There are two different types; single cut and double cut. Both produce a tremendous amount of nitrogen for the crop that follows (usually corn) if you have a good stand.  The benefit of single cut is that it usually does not grow aggressively enough to impact wheat harvest.  The greatest nitrogen value with red clover comes when you leave the crop in the field as long as possible before you terminate it.

The trick with red clover is getting a good stand established. Some growers apply early, some apply later. Some apply coated seed, some apply plain seed. So what is the right answer? Every grower needs to assess the cost of each option and determine which option makes the most economic sense in their cropping system. There is still a degree of luck with red clover however; the best chance of successful establishment is to apply 5-7lbs/ac between mid March and early April when there is minimal snow cover but enough frost in the ground to carry the application equipment without causing damage to the wheat and compaction to the soil. Ensure the clover seed is spread evenly across the application width to ensure good soil to seed contact.

There are several different ways to get Red Clover on your field. The most common way is to frost seed red clover by broadcasting with a four wheeler.   Other individuals will sometimes try blending with urea and applying with an Airflow unit.  Some people will apply with a 3 point hitch spreader attached to a tractor.  I have even heard of producers using a jeep with low inflated tires and a broadcaster attached.

Whichever way you choose to apply your red clover, feel confident that you have made the right decision for this year, and the future.  The yield increase (although sometimes hidden by seasonable variability) is instantly measurable and adds to your bottom line.  Grow Wheat, then add red clover!

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